John Deere patents hybrid harvesters and mobile robots

By Steve Brachmann
February 18, 2015

John Deere

“John Deere” by redjar is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

Deere & Company (NYSE: DE), which also goes under the brand name of John Deere, is an American corporation headquartered in Moline, IL, which develops and manufactures machinery and heavy equipment for agricultural, forestry, construction and other industries.

John Deere is involved in a great deal of innovation related to its heavy machinery, even in the field of data analytics, partnering with cloud computing company SAP to improve information technologies for its heavy machinery and equipment. The corporation is regularly recognized for its innovations, including the recent announcement of a trio of John Deere inventions being recognized at the 2015 SIMA Innovation Awards. In November of last year, the company also received an award from the Farm Business Cream Awards, which honor advancements in the dairy industry, for a sensor system that quickly measures organic material within crops.

Earnings reports for Deere & Co.’s fourth quarter of 2014 indicate some difficulty in growing revenues as the company reported quarterly net income of $649.2 million, compared to $806.8 million from the same period in the previous year. Interestingly, John Deere’s expenditures in research and development actually increased year-over-year, from $405.2 million during 2013’s fourth quarter to $412.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. Low agricultural commodity prices in recent months, which have hurt the ability of farmers to make capital purchases, may contribute to a lower than expecting earnings report for 2015’s first quarter, which the company will release in the coming days.Deere 2014 Text Cluster

Deere & Co. didn’t place among the IFI Claims Top 50 U.S. patent recipients for 2014. During 2013, the company ranked 142nd overall among worldwide entities seeking patents from the U.S. Patent Institution; John Deere earned 233 U.S. patent grants in that year, an increase of 22 percent over the company’s previous year totals. Our research using the Innography patent analysis service showed us that Deere & Co. received another 233 U.S. patents during 2014. A heavy focus on control units and data processors confirms greater activity in information technology developments, although continue to Deere bread-and-butter innovations such as seeing electric motors, work machines and seed vehicles being heavily reflected in the company’s 2014 patent grants.

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John Deere’s Issued Patents: From Hybrid Electric Harvesters to Programmable Mobile Robots

aircraft sensorAgricultural innovations were a strong area of recent R&D development to judge by the patents we noticed in our latest survey of Deere & Company’s recent U.S. patent grants. A technology for monitoring a field of rice crop for the more effective application of fertilizers or pesticides is disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8909389, which is titled Harvester With a Sensor Mounted on an Aircraft. The assembly for a harvester claimed here contains a sensor, either a camera or a range finder, for monitoring a transfer process of a crop from a harvester to a transport vehicle and a control unit for controlling an actuator to adjust an orientation of a transferring device of a harvester. The sensor is mounted on an unmanned aircraft that moves in a vicinity of the harvester and communicates wirelessly with the harvester’s control unit. By providing the sensor in an aircraft, the crop monitoring system does not suffer the drawbacks posed by vibrations created when a harvester travels over uneven ground.

A type of harvester that utilizes a hybrid electric drive system is featured within U.S. Patent No. 8897943, which is titled Battery Electric Hybrid Drive for a Combine Harvester. This patent protects a hybrid drive system for a combine that includes an engine driving an output, an engine control producing a current engine load signal and an engine speed signal, a battery pack, a motor and a generator connected to the output and arranged to be used alternately, a motor/generator control which is signal-connected to the motor and the generator and a hybrid system control that receives state-of-charge information from the battery pack. The invention provides a harvester that meets emission guidelines regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while supporting operation of the harvester’s internal combustion engine. We were also piqued by seeding machinesan intriguing machine for distributing the seeds of multiple crops across the field, which is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8948980, issued under the title Seeding Machine for Planting Multiple Seed Varieties. The seed distributing machine claimed here includes a seed meter with a housing adapted to hold a pool of seed to be singulated and delivered sequentially, a seed delivery system with a switching mechanism providing at least two varieties of seed to the meter and a controller that operates the switching mechanism to control which seed variety is delivered to the seed meter based on the location of the machine in a field. This improved seeding machine is capable of speeding the time that it takes to spread different types of seed with a single machine without having to stop the machine to change seed varieties.

Heavy equipment for moving and properly storing cylindrical rolls of net wrap or solid plastic wrap is improved by the technology explained by U.S. Patent No. 8925287, entitled Arrangement on Baler for Ergonomic Loading of Bale Wrapping Material Rolls. The patent protects a wrap material storage housing with at least one compartment for a baler, the wrap material storage housing having a raised work position, a storage compartment holding an inactive roll of material and a coupling structure connected between a lower region of wrap material storage housing and the housing structure. The invention enables a baler to be provided with enough material for an entire day’s worth of operation and a storage arrangement for wrapping material which can be easily loaded without undue lifting.

An improved fuel supply system for a variety of work vehicles which reduces the amount of heat damage caused to other vehicle components is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8944032, issued under the title Diesel Fuel Feed System. The diesel fuel feed system claimed here includes a diesel engine having a fuel inlet and a fuel outlet, a fuel cooler with an inlet and an outlet which receives excess fuel from the engine, a fuel tank with an inlet and an outlet and a makeup valve with an outlet and multiple inlets for receiving fuel from the tank and the fuel cooler. This system enables the reuse of diesel fuel in work machine fuel supply systems while cooling the reused fuel to a temperature below 70? to protect other vehicle components.

Robotics technologies has been an area we always like to focus on during the Companies We Follow series and we wanted to share a patent received by John Deere in this field. U.S. Patent No. 8874261, which is titled Method and System for Controlling a Mobile Robot, enables a robot operator to more easily modify robotic tasks or a mission, allowing the robot to specialize in completing a specific task. This patent claims a method of operating a mobile robot by collecting range data of one or more objects in an environment around the robot, identifying certain objects as navigation landmarks, storing a reference map of the navigation landmarks based on collected range data, establishing a sequence of waypoints for a robot to visit, reading a message on a tag posted at one or more waypoints and managing a task based on the read message.

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Patent Applications of Note: From Convertible Mower Decks for Mulching to Particulate Filters for Biofuel/Diesel Fuel Blends

mower deckWe noticed a number of John Deere patent applications filed in recent months that reflect the development of mowing and mulching machines. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140331634, which is titled Convertible Mower Deck With Mulch on Demand Actuator, relates to a mower deck which can be more easily converted from a mulching mode to a discharge mode. The convertible mower deck claimed here has a deck with a plurality of cutting chambers, each chamber having a rotary cutting blade and one chamber having a side discharge opening, a plurality of pivoting gates between each of the cutting chambers, a pivoting side discharge door between the side discharge opening and one of the chambers and a mulch on demand actuator with a switch in the operator station which causes a pivot control plate to rotate and move linkages attached to the pivoting gates and the side discharge door. This improved convertible mower deck allows an operator to initiate or stop a mulching mode without reaching outside of the operator station to access a control. Convertible mower decks are also the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140318099, entitled Multi-Blade Mower Deck With Mulch/Side Discharge Conversion. The multi-blade mower deck protected here contains a mulch gate mounted under the mower deck and extending rearwardly along a portion of the perimeter of the first cutting chamber, a mulch gate lever that pivots the mulch gate between a mulching position and a side discharge position and a baffle mounted under the mower deck and extending forwardly and blocking a portion of the flow passage from the first cutting chamber. The innovation results in a multi-blade mower deck which is easy to install, is low in cost and maintains good mulching and side discharge qualities.

virtual terminalAlthough John Deere’s vehicular technologies are related to work vehicles and not consumer automobiles, we still found a few more vehicular technologies expressed by company patent application filings that we felt were worth sharing. Information technology and data systems for John Deere vehicles for displaying important messages are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140325419, filed under the title Virtual Terminal Display for a Vehicle. The system for displaying data associated with an embedded system claimed here includes a vehicle data bus, an electronic control unit comprising a first virtual terminal service and a display unit configured to render a graphical user interface for the electronic control unit. The display unit contains a processor and a user interface applet executable by the processor that causes an exchange of data between terminal services. The embedded system or subsystem for which data is displayed could include the air conditioner, an engine, a fertilizer spreader or a crop spreader. Autonomous vehicles have been a major innovation trend that we’re following this year so we were greatly intrigued by the technology explained by U.S. Patent Application No. 20150025708, leader-followerwhich is titled Leader-Follower Fully-Autonomous Vehicle with Operator on Side. The method for improving operator control claimed here involves receiving a power-up command, receiving a selection of a side-following mode, executing a planned path while distinguishing between an identified operator and other objects in the vehicle’s surrounding environment, moving the vehicle along the planned path in a manner that maintains the operator’s position proximate to the vehicle’s side, identifying obstacles in the planned path and executing obstacle avoidance maneuvers before resuming the planned path. The invention is designed to provide semi-automated equipment that allows a human operator to take control if necessary in a work environment.

We found more robotics innovations reflected in Deere & Co.’s recent patent applications, as is evidenced by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140379196, filed under the title Robotic Mower Navigation System. This patent claims a robotic mower navigation system that is comprised of a robotic mower with a plurality of sensors for detecting strength and polarity of a magnetic field from an electric current through a boundary wire as well as an electronic control unit receiving magnetic field data from the sensors as the robotic mower follows the boundary wire for providing commands to the robotic mower. This robotics innovation achieves high precision and accuracy in the deployment of robotic mowers which are designed to move to specific locations of a yard while reducing the cost of providing such a robotics navigation system.

An improved style of forage chopper used in agricultural crop processing is outlined within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140373501, which is titled Crop Processing and/or Conveying Element for a Forage Chopper. The patent protects a crop processing and/or conveying element that includes a blade, at least one of a conveyor paddle and a conveyor bar with a body that can be attached to a carrier; the body is furnished with a hard material layer that comes into contact with crops during operation and connected in a form-fitting manner to the body. This innovation addresses shortcomings of conventional forage choppers with cutting edges that dull during operation to increase the service life of the crop processing and/or conveying elements.

Finally, we were piqued by an innovation for combustion engines which enables the greater use of biofuels by improving the engine’s fuel efficiency. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140305303, filed under the title Regeneration Method for a Particulate Filter, claims a method for regenerating a particulate filter of an internal combustion engine by passing an exhaust gas stream through the particulate filter, determining what kind of fuel is being combusted in the internal combustion engine and determining a burn-off temperature that is capable of burning off a kind of soot formed in the particulate filter as a result of the fuel combustion. This invention improves the fuel efficiency of diesel engines by matching a burn-off temperature for soot to the soot being created by the kind of fuel being combusted by an engine, in this case a blend of diesel and biofuels.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 5 Comments comments.

  1. Benny February 19, 2015 7:40 am

    Application US20140379196 is clearly anticipated by US6255793 and US6417641 (I could find more obvious prior art if I spent more than 3 minutes on a search). If I could figure that out in less than 5 minutes, so could the patent attorney, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to claim exclusive rights.

  2. Anon February 19, 2015 11:02 am

    Benny,

    I think that you are confusing whose duty it is to examine an application.

    While it is indeed best practice to as rigorously prepare an application (with the best search possible) – and a practice step I routinely engage in – it is the client that makes the call as to how much – including not at all – of a prior art search to make before submitting an application.

    Such is the state of law here in the United States. May I recommend that you read up on the Tafas case, as it was a major argument there that applicants had the type of “duty” that you seem eager to read into the law – a duty that just does not exist.

  3. Benny February 19, 2015 11:10 am

    Anon,
    “A month in the lab will save you an hour in the library”.
    R&D engineers are no fools, and would not embark on product development without a thorough knowledge of the state of the art. Ask me how I know – I am not paid to re-invent the wheel.
    I know whose duty it is to submit an IDS.

  4. Benny February 19, 2015 11:12 am

    Anon,
    Just as a side note, the fact that I could find the prior art for this application in (literally) 3 minutes should give you a clue as to the field of technology I work in.

  5. Anon February 19, 2015 12:59 pm

    Benny,

    My point is expressly NOT what is required of all involved in an application by way of the oath and an IDS.

    Move the goal post back to what I actually stated.

    Ss to the clue as to what field of technology you work in, I ignored the clue because it has no bearing – whatsoever – on the point at hand.